In the heart of the kiln

06:38, Jan 31 2013

According to Palmerston North photographer Heather Feary, a visit to the Hoffman Kiln is a rite of passage for every Manawatu newbie.

I'd never heard of it until Heather told me that in an email, but her photo of it below intrigued me.

Built in 1916 and shut in 1959, the Hoffman Kiln constructed war-years Palmerston North one brick at a time. Today, many of the buildings in The Square are made of the bricks manufactured in the kiln.

Now it sits derelict, in a paddock of thistles taller than your head, surrounded by crumpling mesh fences.  The kiln is a category one historic building falling apart one brick at a time.

It is unadulterated industrial awesomeness.

I got to the kiln's Featherston St address as a beautiful Manawatu sun was sitting low in the sky. The light was pure, but as soon as I scurried down one of its twelve hobbit hole entrances and into the heart of the kiln, it got mighty dark.


And when it's mighty dark in the kiln it's mighty freaky.

There's the fear someone has walked in through one of the open hobbit holes. They are behind you, around the corner, coming to get you.

There's the ghosts of the disadvantaged who have spent the night there.  They linger on in the blanket lying in the dirt, the Tui box in the corner and in the Pacman and skeleton graffiti on the brickwork.

There's also the tingling fear of earthquakes.  The bricks are crumbling one by one, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise any decent shake would cause them all to crumble together.  The worst place to be in Palmerston North in a quake would be the Hoffman Kiln.

It's enough to give anyone the heebies.

There's plenty to be frustrated about with the Hoffman Kiln. Some might justifiably argue the kiln's ongoing vandalism and graffiti over the years is a symbol of the procrastination of those who have the power to fix it.

But even through all that, there's enough electricity and history in the bricks to elicit an emotional response from someone who never knew they existed until a few days ago.

Right now there is a chance for innovative people out there to protect and modify the Hoffman Kiln.  I don't really mind how the people of Palmerston North go about appropriating it next or even who does it.

Let's just make sure the bricks don't completely crumble.

Email Chris and follow his journey on Twitter @chrishydejourno.

Manawatu Standard